IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
October 26, 2011
ANDRE STATON, PETITIONER,
LOUIS S. FOLINO, ET AL. RESPONDENTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joy Flowers Conti United States District Court Judge
Before the Court is Andre Staton's pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus and request for appointment of federal habeas counsel.*fn1 (ECF No. 1). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny his request for appointment of counsel without prejudice and dismiss his pro se petition without prejudice. The Court will also direct the Clerk of Courts to close this case.
Staton was tried in the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County on homicide and related charges at Criminal Docket No. CP-07-CR-0001850-2005.*fn2 On May 2, 2006, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and related crimes. Following a separate penalty hearing, the jury returned a sentence of death.
Staton filed a direct appeal with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania at Capital Appeal Docket No. 538. Thomas N. Farrell, Esq., represents him in that proceeding. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held oral argument on October 18, 2011.
Notwithstanding that Staton's challenge to his state judgment of sentence is on direct appeal before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, he has filed with this Court a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which he challenges that same judgment of sentence. He also requests that this Court appoint him federal habeas counsel.
This proceeding is governed by the federal habeas statute applicable to state prisoners, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under this statute, habeas relief is only available on the grounds that the petitioner's judgment of sentence was obtained in violation of his rights under the United States Constitution. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).*fn3 In his petition, Staton claims that he was denied a fair trial in violation of his due process rights. He specifically asserts that the judge who presided over his trial had "emotional ties" with the victim and was biased against him. He also contends that he was subjected to an illegal search and seizure, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
A federal habeas petitioner must complete the exhaustion of his available state court remedies before a federal district court may determine the merits of his or her habeas corpus claims. The exhaustion requirement is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A), which provides:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that --
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State[.]
28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). The statute further provides that "[a]n applicant shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State, within the meaning of this section, if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c).
The exhaustion requirement is "grounded in principles of comity; in a federal system, the States should have the first opportunity to address and correct alleged violations of state prisoner's federal rights." Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991). See also O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842-49 (1999). The requirement is: principally designed to protect the state courts' role in the enforcement of federal law and prevent disruption of state judicial proceedings. See Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S. 484, 490-491, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 1127, 35 L.Ed.2d 443 (1973). Under our federal system, the federal and state "courts [are] equally bound to guard and protect rights secured by the Constitution." Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. [241, 251, 6 S.Ct. 734, 740 (1886)]. Because "it would be unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal district court to upset a state court conviction without an opportunity to the state courts to correct a constitutional violation," federal courts apply the doctrine of comity, which "teaches that one court should defer action on causes properly within its jurisdiction until the courts of another sovereignty with concurrent powers, and already cognizant of the litigation, have had an opportunity to pass upon the matter." Darr v. Burford, 339 U.S. 200, 204, 70 S.Ct. 587, 590, 94 L.Ed. 761 (1950). See Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3, 102 S.Ct. 18, 19, 70 L.Ed.2d 1 (1981) (per curiam) (noting that the exhaustion requirement "serves to minimize friction between our federal and state systems of justice by allowing the State an initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of prisoners' federal rights").
Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 517 (1982) (footnote omitted). "[A] state prisoner's federal habeas petition should be dismissed if the prisoner has not exhausted available state remedies as to any of his federal claims." Coleman, 501 U.S. at 731 (citing Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241; Lundy, 455 U.S. 509; Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346 (1989); and 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)).
Staton's direct appeal is pending before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Therefore, he has not completed the exhaustion of any federal constitutional claim that he has raised in that proceeding. In the event that he does not receive the relief he seeks on direct review, he will have the opportunity to raise additional federal constitutional challenges to his conviction and his capital sentence in a state collateral appeal pursuant to Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA"), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq.
Under the circumstances presented here, the Court must dismiss this case without prejudice.*fn4 See, e.g., Lundy, 455 U.S. at 515-22. Staton's request that the Court appoint him federal habeas counsel will be denied without prejudice to his right to refile that request if, after the completion of his state court remedies, he commences another federal habeas proceeding.
An appropriate order follows.
Joy Flowers Conti
Andre Staton GR-3024 SCI Green 175 Progress Drive Waynesburg, PA 15601